Governor Cuomo sees the 2020 budget as a “strong progressive statement”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announces an agreement on the Fiscal Year 2020 Budget during a news conference in the Red Room at the State Capitol. Photo by Mike Groll, Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo.

The state’s new $175.5 billion spending plan for fiscal year 2020 achieves many of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s goals outlined earlier in the session, including eliminating cash bail for many non-violent crimes, a permanent 2 percent property tax cap and an MTA funding plan that includes tolling in lower Manhattan.

“From the beginning I said we will not do a budget that fails to address three major issues that have evaded this state for decades — the permanent property tax cap, criminal justice reform and an MTA overhaul including central business district tolling,” Cuomo said. “I also said that this budget must be done right, meaning it must be fiscally responsible.”

The budget also adds another $1 billion for schools — bringing the total education budget to $27.9 billion; provides $3 billion for clean water projects; allocates $150 million for infrastructure improvement; funds the Environmental Protection Fund with $300 million; codifies parts of the Affordable Care Act such as New York’s insurance marketplace; and it starts the process of phasing out single-use plastic bags.

“This is probably the broadest, most sweeping state plan that we have done. There are a number of national firsts and it really grapples with the tough issues that have been facing this state for a long time,” Cuomo said earlier this week as the budget was being finalized. “And we’ve done a lot of good work in this state, a lot of good work that has informed the nation and I think this budget is probably the strongest progressive statement that we’ve made and actually addresses many of the difficult, difficult issues that we are facing today.”

Watch the Governor’s budget announcement here

Left out of the budget were more complex issues such as legalizing marijuana for recreational use, providing driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants and enacting a system of publicly financed campaigns for state offices, including the Legislature.

Total spending will be $175.5 billion, which includes federal funds and other sources. The state operating funds spending will be $102.1 billion, which is a 2 percent growth over last year, representing the ninth consecutive year state spending growth has been held to 2 percent.

As is typical, the two biggest expenses are education and health care; $27.9 billion will be allocated to school aid, an increase of $1 billion over last year, and $19.6 billion — a 3.6 percent increase — will go towards health spending.

The adopted budget eliminates cash bail for misdemeanors and non-violent felonies. Police officers are now required to issue desk appearance tickets rather than custodial arrests. The Governor’s Office estimates that 90 percent of people charged, but not yet convicted of a crime, will remain out of jail until, their trial begins.

For criminal cases, the discovery process has been greatly overhauled, with prosecutors no longer allowed to withhold evidence until the trial begins. The 2020 budget requires both prosecutors and defense attorneys to share all information and evidence in their possession well in advance of the trial. Defendants and their lawyers are now allowed to review what evidence is in the prosecution’s possession prior to pleading guilty or not guilty. Prosecutors will still able to petition for protective orders to shield identifying information to prevent witness or victim intimidation from the defendant or their legal team.

Legislation in the budget requires courts to take a more proactive role in the government’s readiness to bring a case to trial and providing the defendant with all evidence in advance of a trial. Courts will also be pressured to meet New York state law; resolving misdemeanors within 90 days and felonies within 180 days.

“It has been my personal mission to correct the tilted scales of justice for New Yorkers, and this year’s budget agreement makes a giant leaps toward realizing these goals: reforming our bail system, ensuring the right to a speedy trial, and making critical changes to New York’s discovery process,” said Assembly Speaker Heastie.

Legislative Gazette photo by Dylan Hirsh
The state will also be investing an additional $500 million in clean drinking water programs, on top of $2.5 billion already allocated, bringing total spending on clean water to $3 billion.

Cuomo’s proposal “congestion pricing” in parts of Manhattan has been discussed as a revenue-generating idea for decades, but has now become a reality as a way to help fund the ailing Metropolitan Transportation Authority. The MTA is required to develop a reorganization plan by June. The MTA will be subject to an independent forensic audit and efficiency review, have outside experts review major construction projects and implement a 20-year capital needs assessment by 2023.

To pay for MTA reforms the state will implement a central business district tolling program, installing electronic devices in the district, covering streets south of 60th Street in Manhattan. This new program will be maintained by MTA Bridges and Tunnels.

A six-member “Traffic Mobility Review Board” will be formed to advise on tolls, exemptions and credits. The budget language promises that tolls will be variable and passenger vehicles will only be charged once per day. This tolling system will not be implemented until after December 31, 2020. The program is estimated by the state to leverage $15 million for the MTA’s capital needs, where 100 percent of the tolling revenue going toward MTA needs

The state has also devised other ways to raise revenue for MTA reform. The budget enacts a “progressive mansion tax” with a combined top rate of 4.15 percent on the sale of properties valued at $25 million or higher. The tax plan is projected to raise $365 million towards the MTA’s “capital lockbox,” supporting up to $5 billion in project financing. The mansion tax is going into effect on July 1, 2019.

Another means of raising tax revenue is through Internet sales. The enacted budget will “allow a consistent framework for the collection of required sales taxes by Internet marketplace providers.” This is expected to raise an annual revenue of $320 million for the MTA capital lockbox, supporting up to $5 billion in projects as well, and an additional $160 million for local governments and another $48 million in new resources for county governments outside of the city.

Other notable developments in the budget relate to college costs, environmental conservation, and regulating the state’s limousine industry.

The eligibility ceiling for the Excelsior Scholarship Free Tuition Program for SUNY and CUNY students has gone up to include families making up to $125,000 annually to apply for tuition-free college.

The budget also implements the Jose R. Peralta Dream Act. The law permits undocumented students to apply and receive state aid and creates a state “Dream Fund” for college scholarships covering undocumented immigrants pursuing higher education. The law was passed by the state Legislature back in January.

“We did not lose sight of our commitment to students or our pledge to create more affordable pathways to higher education,“ said Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins.

After successful lobbying from conservation groups, the state will enact several reforms meant to protect the environment. The enacted budget includes legislation banning single-use plastic bags and will allow counties and cities to opt in to a 5 cent fee on paper bags. Forty percent of revenue from the fees will go to supporting local programs buying reusable bags for low-income consumers and 60 percent will go to the state’s Environmental Protection Fund which will see historic funding levels of $300 million.

Legislative Gazette photo by Dylan Hirsh
Under the new budget, one-time use plastic bags will be eliminated in New York and local governments will ave the option of placing a 5-cent fee for paper bags.

The state will also be investing an additional $500 million in clean drinking water programs, on top of $2.5 billion already allocated, bringing total spending on clean water to $3 billion.

After years of attempts at some kind of campaign finance reform legislation, a public financing commission will be established, which will have the power to implement public campaign financing for legislative and statewide offices, where they could authorize the use of up to $100 million annually in public funds. The commission will research the public finance system, eligibility thresholds, public financing limits and contribution limits for participating candidates. A report from the commission is due by December 1, 2019 and will have up to be modified or will become law.

The budget also includes many smaller elections reforms such as early voting, extended primary voting hours, the option of registering to vote online, and electronic sign-in books at the polls.

Workplaces are now mandated to permit three hours of paid time off for all New Yorkers on Election Day. Online voter registration will be enacted, e-poll books will be funded and upstate voting hours will begin at 6 a.m. $10 million of the budget will go towards funding early voting programs.

However, a large coalition called the Fair Elections Campaign is disappointed that public financing of statewide elections was not included in the budget. Good government groups and some lawmakers say they are disappointed the system was not fully implemented in the budget.

“Although the groundwork was laid for a publicly funded, small-donor matching system to rein in the power of big money in our politics, I believe the details should have been worked out in the budget process rather than handed off to a commission,” said Sen. Liz Krueger, D-Manhattan.

Despite talks of rolling back the Affordable Care Act in Washington, parts of the ACA is now codified into New York State law, such as preserving an insurance marketplace to keep consumer costs down. The adopted budget also mandates coverage for in-vitro fertilization and egg-freezing, establishes rape shield protections for victims of sex trafficking, changes regulations for domestic violence shelters and will be investing $26 million in child care to maintain market rates outside of New York City.

The limo industry will also be seeing some big changes as a result of the new budget. It will now be a class E felony to knowingly operate a limo is not up to the standards of the Department of Transportation, possibly endangering the lives of passengers.

The Department of Motor Vehicles will now be able to revoke limousine licenses and registrations for not meeting federal safety standards. Inspection stations found to be issuing more than three improperly issue inspections will have their operating certificates revoked. Stretch limos are also now prohibited from making U-turns in New York. Limo drivers will also have to carry increased insurance up to at least $1.5 million in coverage.

Legislative Gazette photo by Dylan Hirsh
The regulation and taxation of marijuana for recreational purposes was a policy item left out of the new budget. The state may adopt recreational marijuana legislatively before the end of the current session, some say.